RESEARCH DOCUMENT : Top Secret Chernobyl : The Nuclear Disaster through the Eyes of the Soviet Politburo, KGB, and U.S. Intelligence. Volume 1 – 2


Top Secret Chernobyl : The Nuclear Disaster through the Eyes of the Soviet Politburo, KGB, and U.S. Intelligence. Volume 1

Memorial to Those who Saved the World, Chernobyl, Ukraine (Wikipedia)

Published: Aug 15, 2019

Briefing Book #681

Edited by Svetlana Savranskaya, Sarah Dunn, Brooke Lennox with Alla Yaroshinskaya

For more information, contact:
202-994-7000 or nsarchiv

Declassified documents detail highest-level reactions, cover-ups, critiques

Sources include Politburo notes, diaries, protocols never before translated into English

Part One of a Two-Volume Publication

Reactor No. 4 of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant on April 27, 1986. Copyright: IAEA Imagebank. Photo Credit: Ukrainian Society for Friendship and Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries (USFCRFC)

Washington, D.C., August 15, 2019 – Documents from the highest levels of the Soviet Union, including notes, protocols and diaries of Politburo sessions in the immediate aftermath of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986, detail a sequence of cover-up, revelation, shock, mobilization, individual bravery, and bureaucratic turf battles in the Soviet reaction, according to the “Top Secret Chernobyl” e-book published today by the National Security Archive.

Key sources include protocols of the Politburo Operational Group on Chernobyl that were published in Russian by the journalist and former Supreme Soviet deputy Alla Yaroshinskaya in 1992. The posting today begins with Yaroshinskaya’s essay (written exclusively for this publication) reviewing the Chernobyl story and her own efforts dating back to 1986 to document and expose the lies and the secrecy that surrounded the disaster.

Also included are excerpts from the diary of Politburo member Vitaly Vorotnikov, notes on Politburo sessions by Anatoly Chernyaev, and excerpts from rare “official working copies” of Politburo sessions that were published in Russian by former Rosarchiv director Rudolf Pikhoia in 2000. Today’s publication also contains declassified reactions from the U.S. State Department’s intelligence bureau, the CIA, and the National Security Council’s Jack Matlock, as well as reporting from the Ukrainian KGB.

“Top Secret Chernobyl” is the first part of a two-volume documentary publication, taking the Chernobyl story through July 1986. The second part will include Soviet military reporting on the radiation contamination, the process of “liquidation” of the consequences, and more foreign reactions to the disaster.

The documents published today complement a number of other important accounts of Chernobyl. The author Adam Higginbotham, whose book Midnight in Chernobyl (2019) illuminates the tragedy with quotations from his hundreds of interviews, also relied on a trove of Soviet-era documents collected by the Ukrainian National Chernobyl Museum in Kiev. In April 2019, Higginbotham published an extremely useful selection of these documents on the “Sources and Methods” blog of the History and Public Policy Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The Higginbotham documents particularly detail the reaction of the Kiev authorities, ranging from the Council of Ministers to the Ukrainian Communist Party Central Committee to the Ministry of Health to the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences.

Another richly documented account that begins with the trial of the Chernobyl plant operators in 1987 and analyzes the entire rise of the Soviet nuclear power industry is Sonja D. Schmid’s Producing Power (2015). Schmid dissects the various competing explanations for the Chernobyl disaster, including operator error, reactor design, and deficiencies in the Soviet system overall, and cites to more than 100 pages of notes on sources. A more popularized and novelistic treatment may be found in Serhii Plokhy’s account, Chernobyl: A History of a Nuclear Catastrophe (2018).

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